Ron Clark - Essential 55: An Award-Winning Teacher's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child

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Ron Clark's Rules for Discipline In and Out of the Classroom

Jan 10, 2007 (Updated Jan 11, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Common sense advice; Some rules apply to anyone

Cons:Other rules are too limiting; Too few rules relating to academics

The Bottom Line: This book is a decent attempt by an award winning teacher to show what works in his classrooms but I would like it better with more academic tips.


How does a teacher motivate young students and guide them down the path of success? This is a question that thousands of education experts have attempted to answer and it’s a question without a clear answer. Some educators advocate a return to traditional methods of classroom control while others are quick to point out that the old methods will no longer work in today’s society. No method is perfect, but there is one man who feels he has the keys success. He is an award winning teacher and motivational speaker who has taught in some of the toughest classrooms in America. His name is Ron Clark and he wrote this book, The Essential 55: An Award Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child, to communicate the specific methods he uses to encourage discipline and learning in today’s elementary schools.

Basic Contents of This Book:

After a brief introduction, The Essential 55 launches directly into the 55 rules. Listed with a star and written in italics, the rules are presented in no particular order with Clark explaining what he feels are the important rules and procedures necessary to develop and inspire young children.

These 55 rules are a varied lot, and they deal with a broad range of concerns. In the area of academics, Clark includes recommendations on topics like homework assignments; reading out loud in class; proper conduct when a substitute teacher is present; and others. Outside of academics, Clark offers his words of wisdom on a wide variety of topics like remembering to hold doors open for people behind you; being considerate and respectful when answering the phone; keeping organized; flushing the toilet and washing hands every time the restroom is used; and many more.

The book ends with a few auxiliary sections: one on tips for dealing with children, one on tips for dealing with parents, and one on tips for setting punishments and rewards. A brief closing statement from Clark brings the book to its final conclusion.

Final Thoughts:

Ron Clark is a man who obviously knows a thing or two about educating and disciplining youngsters. He has been the recipient of many different awards; has been invited to the White House to meet with Bill and Hillary Clinton; and has spoken to school boards and concerned parents around the country about the hot topic of education. There is consistent disagreement on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to education but Clark is convinced that his methods, while not perfect, are at the very least a step in the right direction and will likely result in improvements to some degree.

Clark spends the bulk of this book highlighting his “Essential 55”. One by one, he lists each of his rules followed by an explanation of what the rule means, how to implement it, and what he has learned from it. Often, Clark gets a little sidetracked in this book and tells a story relating to a specific rule. He likes sharing his personal stories and he uses them as a way to illustrate how a specific rule has been proven successful and/or how the rule has evolved based on his personal experience. Most of his stories deal with actual events that have taken place either in the classroom, with a parent, or at an official school function. These stories, while sometimes a little silly, are Clark’s way of showing that his rules have merit and many educators who read them will be able to relate.

I have been a teacher so I have experience in front of a classroom. My experience, however, is from the perspective of teaching adults so there is little in a book like this that I find useful. Clark’s area of expertise is teaching young children (elementary school age) and that is the group that his Essential 55 is intended to target. Many of these rules could apply to other age groups also, but the bulk of them are aimed at the very young and are intended to develop discipline and personal character.

Speaking of that last point, one thing that surprised me about this book is its inclusion of rules relating to etiquette and discipline. When I first heard about this book I assumed that, based on its title, it was a book about ways to succeed at teaching. But I quickly discovered that what Clark talks about in this book is actually more geared toward discipline than anything. Only a small fraction of the rules deal directly with academics and actual teaching methods. The rest of the rules deal with developing good manners, keeping one’s self neat and organized, showing respect to others, etc.

The fact that Clark spends so much time covering discipline and etiquette is a curve ball I didn’t see coming. I can agree that proper etiquette and self- discipline are important and are good ideas to instill in young people. But I don’t know if this is necessarily the best way to deal with the subject of education which, I thought, was going to be the basis of this book. I know that many will defend Clark’s methods; arguing that good discipline and manners will ultimately lead to strong classroom performance. This could be true, but I have not seen enough research to convince me that, for example, referring to older people as “Sir” or “M’aam” (Rule #1) is necessarily going to lead to better classroom performance and higher test scores. And Clark doesn’t offer any hard evidence that his methods work. He relies instead on his own experience as his guiding force. He is convinced that what works for him will work for most any teacher. It may not work as well as it does for him, but Clark is convinced that any educator who follows his rules will see at least some improvement in the classroom.

Looking at the Essential 55, some of the rules seem a little silly. I think everyone will agree with some of them, like “Be as Organized as Possible (Rule #18)”, “Always Say Thank You When Given Something (Rule# 9)”, and “Never Cut in Line”. These rules are obvious and they can benefit anyone at any age. But other rules are a little too confining like “When Homework is Assigned, do not Moan or Complain (Rule# 19), or “If you are Asked a Question in Conversation, Ask a Question in Return (Rule# 6)”. These aren’t necessarily bad pieces of advice, but they are a little too specific and don’t seem worthy of inclusion in a list like this one. Homework isn’t always fun, and its common for kids to moan or sigh when an assignment is made. Clark believes in handing out punishments when this rule (and others) is broken even though it is often an honest response. And remembering to ask a question in return when someone else asks a question isn’t always as easy as it sounds- especially for young children.

One other thing that deserves mentioning is that Clark’s writing isn’t at the “A” level one would expect from an award winning educator. His choice of words and his grammar are sometimes a little off the mark and if I had to give him a grade for this component of the book, my grade would be C+. The writing is very average and even though I was able to understand what Clark was trying to communicate, I can think of many paragraphs that would be more effective if they were rewritten.

Overall, “The Essential 55” is a good book with some common sense advice on making young children into better people. It emphasizes discipline a little more than I would prefer and it gets sidetracked more often than it should. I was hoping to read more advice on ways to improve the actual academic experience and performance of young people. I didn’t get what I wanted, but The Essential 55 is still a book worth reading, particularly for those who teach in elementary schools. It offers some good advice on how to get kids to behave themselves and show respect; hopefully leading to improved academic performance and a better life in the future.


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